Eight-year old Hina was searching for a stick in her courtyard. Having found one behind the henhouse, she rushes to her mother in the kitchen, brandishing the stick in her hand. “Let’s go out,” she tells her.
Holding a stick with one hand and her mother’s arm with the other, little Hina was happy. She was ready to come out of the house to join the people on the streets. The shattered glasses and the smoldering tyres on the roads did not frighten her. She too wanted to shout slogans for freedom.
Nayeema, Hina’s mother smiles, “She just wanted to go out, she was so eager you know.” As she says this, Hina listens to our conversation from behind a curtain. She smiles shyly, playing with her curly hair.
This was when Kashmir was protesting the transfer of 38.2 hectares of forest land to SASB. Now the land issue has completely been transcended by the calls for ‘Azadi’ (freedom) here in Kashmir. The participation of women in the ongoing protests has been unprecedented so far.
As the smell of dung-cakes, those are in the courtyard, floats through the air, Nayeema recalls, “All men of our family were out, protesting, my husband and my brother-in-law.” She nods as if pleased with herself. “Everybody was on streets, even women from my neighbourhood.
“I too covered my face and joined the protests,” she adds after a bit of probing.
This mother-daughter duo belongs to Taploo mohalla of Soura in Srinagar. This area was among the many localities that witnessed the women protesters coming out and registering their anger.
Women could be seen pelting stones and shouting with equal fervor the ‘Azadi’ slogans on the streets.
They see reason behind their active participation in the protests. “It was for our freedom,” says Rafiqa of Maisuma area in Srinagar. Having memorized the slogans, she blurts out in broken Urdu, “Aada roti khayay ga, sar nahi jukaye ga.” Her tone was proud. Rafiqa, a fragile lady in her forties, was quick to add, “The whole area had locked their houses. Nobody stayed back home. We ran with the protesters. It was a huge Juloos.” She relishes the memory.
Gulzara, another women protester from Maisuma, who says she was part of all the protest marches, from Muzaffarabad Chalo to UN Office in Sonawar, had to go in for painkiller injections in her feet after the days protests were over. “My feet hurt. I had to inject drugs to assuage the pain,” she says in her husky voice, taking off the footwear to show the soles of her feet.
“It is the jazba (passion) for freedom that brought us out on the roads,” she adds. “We won’t let the sacrifice of young boys go waste.” She says in a pensive mood.
This is for the first time after the Nineties uprising in Kashmir that ranks of women, young and old, have come out in such mammoth numbers on the streets.
But it is not only on the streets that women are making their presence felt, they are contributing behind the scenes as well. Consider the various ‘langars’ that were organized by them. They collected materials and prepared food, especially ‘tehri’, a Kashmiri rice specialty and distributed to marchers coming from different parts of Valley. They also made arrangements for refreshments to the demonstrators.
The women and girls were well in the forefront of these silent gestures of solidarity. Girls from Kashmir University donated blood as the number of injured in the protests grew.
Prof. Hameeda Nayeem, who teaches English at the University of Kashmir, had this to say, “I felt happy when girls protested in their own unique way. It is high time that India respects the voice of Kashmiris.”
The political consciousness among women has increased manifold in the recent years. Many attribute this to education. Yasmeen is a 12th grade student from Soura. She says she was among the firsts to shout slogans for ‘Azadi’. “Today media is there, education level is high.” Arranging her headscarf, she says in a broken voice, “One gets emotional, so I too went out to pelt stones at the CRPF men who beat up women from our area.”
Yasmeen believes “Kashmir deserves to be free on the lines of Bangladesh.”
Freedom seems to be the dream of every young girl at the Govt. College for Women, M. A. Road. Perhaps that is why they took out a protest rally inside the campus. They called for ‘Azadi’.
Saima Gul, a B.A. first year student joined the protests. This 19-year old girl says, “We are educated. We know what is right and wrong.” Her friends nod in agreement. “We know India wronged us. They fired on unarmed protesters and killed them, in Jammu they didn’t fire.
“In today’s world we think there is no difference between a boy and a girl, then why should we be silent at these trying times?” she asks.
This coming from a student of a college which is considered the fashion hub, tells the tale of Kashmiri girls coming of age.
Shaheen, another young college protester believes that the passion for Azadi in girls equals the passion found in boys. “We are united in our struggle for Freedom. That is why we thought we should protest.”
There is, however, some ambivalence in this argument. Some young girls at the College are of the opinion that girls are better off at home. “We should offer fateh khawani to the martyrs at the School and College assemblies instead of holding rallies,” says Asma, a B.Sc Final year student.
Whatever be it, Kashmiri women and girls are not among the ones to bow down easily. They have realized their roles and are ready to contribute their bit to the Kashmiris demand for ‘Azadi’.
As Nida, a Kashmir University student puts it succinctly, “We have had enough.”